User Experience Design Does Not Exist

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If you were to ask 100 people how their experience was on, you'd probably get 50 different answers. And if we we're to believe that there is such a thing as user experience design, a team of designers would have been responsible for designing all those experiences.

And while it's nice to think that someone was thinking about the user, it's unlikely that the designers were truly influencing all the emotions, feelings and experiences of the user. Sure, you might say that somebody in the company needs to be focused on the user, but that's not designing something, that's observing, talking and learning from them- we call that 'customer service' and 'marketing'.

The designers that work on don't create the experience— they're responsible for building the system, product and service that allowed those different experiences to happen. The designers work to understand how the user interacts with the website to create the most desirable and profitable experiences. We call that interaction design.

Designers need to stop thinking that they're creating experiences. They're allowing them to unfold with sound design decisions.

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It has 23 comments.

Bryan (ZURB) says

Dan- interesting graph. I'd say that companies need to be more 'cross-disciplined'- looking more at the intersection of different skills of engineering, marketing and customer service. Designers tend to think the world revolves around their own skill set!

Shrikant Ekbote (ZURB) says

Thanks Bryan. Interesting read. I agree with statement that one can't really design experiences. Another objection I've with the term "User Experience design" is that currently it is used in the context of web or digital objects but that's a very small part of my experiences. So if at all we've to use this term, we should call it "web experience design" or "digital experience design" rather than calling it "User Experience design". If we extend the same logic, even "interaction design" does not exist. At the core it's just "User Interface design". Regards- Shrikant

William Bright (ZURB) says

While I don't know if designers should necessarily be held accountable for the user experience, I think an ideal situation is that everyone involved in a web product be aware of not only the UI, but the also of the "User Experience" -- regardless of how we label it. Currently I'm part of the team developing a Facebook Application and each of us is very much focused on the experience from page to page, section to section and how each decision affects the whole experience.

Is it in my job description? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe it's more of the Creative or Art Director's responsibility than the individual designer's, but if anyone actually cares about the product they're working on I'd hope they would make an effort to think about such things, rather than just punch a timeclock and do the bare minimum that fits their job description.

I agree with what you say about "cross-discipline." The way things are, most designers are suddenly expected to be creative director, UI designer, and wear many other hats than what's expected. On the flip side, many "creative directors" also happen to be the only designer available on the job. The more flexible, or cross-disciplined, they are, the better for everyone involved (and more valuable they are on their jobs!)

madhu (ZURB) says


IMO. Experiences are subjective, therefor each of those 50-100 experiences might be different.

However it is true that many of those experiences get attached to the product /service, especially the bad experiences. Consequently impacting the business (sales).

It is very difficult / impossible to influence the experiences, but influencing experiences is too value-able business aspect to ignore. One might not achieve 100% results, but 50% or more chance of a better experience (memorable one) is still worthwhile to plan / invest for. Especially avoiding all the possible negative experiences is very important for success.

It might not be 'design' in traditional sense, but some form of predicting, planning, action is required.

So User experience exists, just very difficult to influence.

Miek (ZURB) says

There is a commonly-held assumption about experience design, which is that experience can be designed, or rather, engineered. The idea that each person's experience of a thing will be the same goes out the window as soon as you consider the rich and varied nature of all those people. Everyone brings baggage, or a lifetime of previous experiences to any new experience. Thus, what comes before shapes the experience they then have.

It is a commonly-held assumption that we can create experiences. We can create a situation where a person will have an experience that is more-or-less how we intend it, but we cannot engineer it. Experience design is about being sensitive to people and the experiences they may have, and understanding that these may all be different.

Miek (ZURB) says

Oops, where's the edit button for my comment?! Sorry for repeating myself!

AJ (ZURB) says

Yes and no. Sure, a large part of what we do is plain old 'interaction design' with a touch of graphics and art direction, but if that's all it was, then why are some digital experiences better than others? Why do people express emotional attachment to websites and devices they love, and visceral dislike for others?

It's about making choices - creating a focus, understanding the user, and working to make your service, software or device not merely usable but actually a pleasure (or at the very least, to remove their pain). One can rationalize all the small design touches in the interaction design of the iPhone, for instance, but the plain reality is that people find it friendly and delightful, and this experience is designed.

We just did a UXTalk in Montreal about finding common ground between game design and traditional UX and one of the strongest points was that things people love have what might be called a "ludic element" - it's playful and fun, friendly and approachable. And that can't be created in Visio or Omnigraffle alone.

Jeremy (ZURB) says

@AJ Great point that lessons from games can add playfulness and opportunities for fun with our products and services. There's a counterpoint though to what you say about the "plain reality" that great "experience is designed."

We've talked a lot about this topic in the year-and-a-half since this post was written and one theme emerged: Designing for great experiences requires a highly cross-disciplinary effort. It has to be owned by the organization and executed by individuals with deep skills in their disciplines.

I like "Interaction design" over "user experience design" because:

  1. It keeps us honest that we designers have a craft to perfect
  2. It reminds us we're in a give-and-take relationship with customers
  3. It's an antidote to the hubris that we design what they experience

piquot hedge fund (ZURB) says

Greetings Sally, you are absolutely correct, it shows that youre an authority on da subject. I admire someone that takes da pride you have and with your projecton of information. So when I actually do sit down to read material, I appreciate well written and organized Is like this one. I have it bookmarked and will be back. Talk Later

matthieu (ZURB) says

Thanks for this interesting article which give us the possibility to discuss job descriptions. I partially agree/disagree with your point of view.

UX Designers don't create experience, that is sure. It is quite the other way round: their job is to take in account all the paths, goals, motivation, abilities and disabilities, etc. (or in one unperfect word: "experience") from the user, and make sure that the solution he designed respond adequately to any of those experiences.

In order to plan all the differents user profiles & experiences, the UX designer needs to design a plan wich is comprehensive enough to give a accurate modelization of users complex characteristics: in other words, a strategy.

Another point is that interface designers tend to forget that web is (almost) 100% information, and that a good information/content architecture is crucial to any website. Pure Interaction Design doesn't fully deal with content planification. This is why there are Information Architects.

To conclude, I would say: Strategy + Information architecture + Interaction Design = Experience Design.

Peter (ZURB) says

The phrase 'design for the middle' comes to mind when I think of the sensitivity designers should have in thinking about how real people will use their products in real life. There will definitely be a multitude of variations in how a product/service is used but if we consider an archetypical scenario we can plan for off-shoots and deviations.

I definitely agree about the misconception that experiences can somehow be sculpted. How about Influenced, facilitated, or coaxed? Those seem to get closer to the way designers shape content around a contextual 'ideal situation.'

I've been having a lot of internal back-and-forth on the idea that there should even be such titles as 'information architects' or 'content strategists'. Shouldn't designers be keen to all of these themselves? Isn't design (visual or otherwise) all about the structure of content to convey a message? There's been a lot of joking amongst the web/design community that "Social Marketing" positions are somewhat BS; maybe this is similar - who knows.

But really, I loved this little article. Stirs up some nice questions to think about!


Bryan (ZURB) says

@Peter Great insights. I think designers need to take a broad approach to solving problems and that includes writing. Thanks for chiming in.